(REUTERS) -- Stocks rose on Thursday as lower yields on some euro-zone debt eased some concerns and rumors about China's strong GDP increased investors' appetite for risk.

The S&P 500 popped above its 50-day moving average in a sign that traders may see the recent pullback of nearly 5 percent as an opportunity to catch up with the benchmark's performance. The index is up 10 percent for the year to date.

In a sign that the labor market's recovery may be stalling, government data showed new claims for unemployment benefits rose unexpectedly last week to their highest level since January. But some economists cited the Easter holidays for the spike in claims, adding that they expected applications will keep declining in the weeks ahead.

Benchmark bond yields in Italy and Spain dropped following an Italian auction of three-year notes, while the euro hit a one-week high against the dollar, signaling a reduction in near-term concern about the euro zone's debt troubles.

The easing bond yields are a signal to investors here that things aren't quite that bad in Europe, said Brian Gendreau, market strategist with Cetera Financial Group.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> was up 167.22 points, or 1.30 percent, at 12,972.61. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> was up 17.36 points, or 1.27 percent, at 1,386.06. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> was up 38.54 points, or 1.28 percent, at 3,055.

Basic materials shares led gains as the euro climbed against the dollar and commodity prices advanced. The S&P materials sector index <.GSPM> jumped 2.8 percent. U.S. Steel shot up 6.3 percent to $29.03. Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold rose 6 percent to $37.94.

Early into earnings season, results are beating Wall Street's expectations at a fast clip. Analysts say the expectations could have been lowered too much and stocks can seem cheap after the S&P's recent pullback of almost 5 percent.

What early reports we have already show a pretty good beat rate, said Jim Paulsen, chief investment officer of Wells Capital Management in Minneapolis. I wonder if we're going to beat the low hurdle of earnings.

Market participants also cited expectations that China's gross domestic product would surprise on the upside as a reason for gains in basic materials shares.

Basic materials and industrials could be up on bets the Chinese GDP report tonight might be better than expected, Wells Capital's Paulsen said.

Shares of Hong Kong and Shanghai rose overnight on optimism about easier monetary policy in China and a better-than-expected economic outlook.

The Federal Reserve is running through data to determine if last month's soft non-farm payrolls report was a weather-related setback or a sign the recovery is losing momentum, said William Dudley, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Dudley left the door open to additional stimulus measures if the economic recovery gets off track. Previous rounds of quantitative easing have been a boost for equities and other risk assets.

(Editing by Jan Paschal)